”I am Your Body”

FOOT

     YOU ARE SOMEWHAT awed by your heart, liver, lungs and other organs. But you tend to regard me as an ungainly, trouble-causing nuisance. I am your left foot. I've been described as everything from an architectural nightmare to an anatomical wonder. The latter, I think, is closer to fact.

You have no idea what a complex piece of machinery I really am. There you stand, gazing out a window, your mind pretty much a blank. Yet a great deal is going on inside me. In effect, through the intricate interaction of my 26 bones (one fourth of all your bones are in your feet), 107 ligaments and 19 muscles. I can balance a six-foot, 180-pound plus pile of flesh and bone. Try balancing anything that size on an area no larger than the soles of two feet! It's a tricky business. Messages fly back and forth from the brain. Sensor spots in my soles report that pressure is growing in one area - you're tilting slightly. Back come orders: tighten this muscle, relax that one. It would take a good-sized computer to handle a balancing act like that.

Walking is even more complex. My heel takes the initial shock load, which is then transmitted along my five metatarsal bones to the ball of your foot, just behind the toes. Finally, with the big toe, I give a forward thrust. This keeps me quite busy.

But you pay more attention to the tires of your car than you does to me. You punish me unmercifully, then gets annoyed when I hurt. You simply cannot understand it. Walking down a sidewalk at a comfortable 100-steps-a-minute pace. That means I'm hitting cement with a 180-pound jolt 50 times each minute, and my partner to the right is doing the same. In your lifetime, you will walk something like 65,000 miles - which means tens of millions of jolts for me. The wonder is that I don't collapse completely.

For the first million years or so that your ancestors were on earth, things were fine for feet. Everyone walked barefoot (later on, they would wrap feet in animal skins) on yielding, uneven terrain - the finest possible exercise for feet. Then came shoes, cement sidewalks and hard floors. I begin to hurt just thinking about them!

When you were a baby, your parents, without knowing it, piled punishment on me. They did not realize that my bones were soft and rubbery (I wouldn't be a finished product until you were about 20 years old). They tucked crib sheets tightly enough to produce mild deformities in me and crammed me into shoes and socks, both short enough to do further damage.

Like all young parents, they were anxious for you to take your first wobbly steps, and tried to help you. I was still a little bag of pretty soft jelly, not yet ready for walking. It would have been better if they had let you decide when you were ready to walk by your self - and left you barefoot until then, or even a month or so afterward.

As a child, you got regular checks of heart, lungs and other organs that are rarely defective in the young. But I, a big trouble causer, was ignored. Many doctors figure, I suppose, that sore feet never killed anyone. By the time you were four, a podiatrist - foot specialist - would have seen immediately that I needed help. By the time you were six, real trouble was under way, as in 40 percent of all kids. My partner and I were going flat, and there were beginnings of toe deformities, caused mainly by heredity and shoes.

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